The Mythological Mess of “Passengers”

Welcome to the “Old Beyond”

©2016 Sony Pictures

The New Beyond

I like the new kind of sci-fi that has quietly sneaked in between the disaster movies. 
Where hope thrives and love keeps us sane in the incomprehensible vastness of time and space. Where a very human story touches us with its ability to relate and to scale. The scenarios are larger than life, but the people remain life-size. Their stories are small — still taller than our tiny blue marble in its relation to the galaxy, but overall — small. 
Their problems are beyond the very grasp of human capacity, while the solution appears close enough to reach, scientifically and psychologically.

Experiencing this new kind of sci-fi, we are traveling back to a time, when we have first been introduced to the concept of space. Again we are children, curious and wide-eyed, looking for the new “Great Beyond”.
Beyond what we know. Beyond what we feel.

It started with Gravity (2013), shot to fame with Interstellar (2014), blew us away with Arrival (2016), but has rather failed to impress with Passengers (2017).
The latter, a work of Norwegian director Morten Tyldum, might be not be part of this “New Beyond”, but rather:

The Old Beyond

Let’s take a look at the mythological qualities of Passengers, rather than its scientific and psychological ones:

We’re on a barge of souls, traveling into a new vector of time and space.
The passengers are souls ready for rebirth. While traveling, they are returning to a state of embryonic slumber. A lifetime into their journey, they will be released into the eden-like environment of a luxury cruiser. They will get to know their new community, their fellow Babylonians, a few months before faced with the (probably) harsh reality of colonising a distant planet.

The barge resembles a slumbering leviathan hovering through a void between life and death. By bridging the gab between habitable planets it drifts outside of creation — much like the bubble-shaped vessel headed towards Xibalbá in The Fountain. Outside, monsters roam, in the form of meteors, crashing against the ship’s shield, fiery demons endangering the safety of the traveling souls.
You are not supposed to come to while you are in this world beyond human comprehension, this realm of godlike proportions. Your least benevolent deity is time, their domain is space.

This set-up, whether drawn from Greek, Norse or early Christian ideas, is interesting and has the ingredients of an epic story.
It offers no new scientific or psychological ideas, rather the execution of very old concepts in a futuristic environment. It really doesn’t qualify for “The New Beyond”.
It’s rather a mythological mess.

The Mess We’re In

Let’s roll with this.
By being pulled out from paradisiac preservation by the doings of “fiery demons”, you are doomed to parish alone in purgatory — unless you sin yourself and drag another soul into your dilemma.

The Adam in this story is the Engineer, a builder of structures. The Eve is a writer, a creator of written record. Their only companion is an android, a homunculus with both qualities of a demon and an angel.
His actions are the intentional interference of a Greek god, who will relate to a “mortal” with just as much difficulty.
The soul, that appears later to inform them of their impending doom, is a dead man walking, a sacrifice, a ghost… a prophet?

You could postulate, that it was not the demons who woke the first soul up with their damage to the ship, but a deity interested in the safe travel of souls. This higher power enabled the Engineer to take notice and act upon it. However, freshly emerged from rebirth, he has a long way to go before coming upon the real problem and the capacity to do something about it.

His trials as the first man in this purgatory are chosen. His burden however, to be in the unbearable void of real human contact and interaction, is not.
Seduced by the promise of company, he loses his fight for better judgement and pulls the Writer out of paradise.
(The shock of mortality is the best argument for this metaphor.)

The punishment for his sin is to be disgraced from the love of the first woman. A Christian interpretation would go a little further, as to see his love affair as the sin to be punished by their impending death in fiery hell. He claimed the woman without permission by a deity and thus “played god”.
(Since they are together without blessing, all their sexual activity only adds to the trouble the’d be in, would this really be a Biblical story.)

The Redeemer

So, how did Passengers fare in presenting its dilemma of souls in purgatory?
With kindness towards its characters, with a chance of new hope and a mythological tree of life to remind the coming generations of their sacrificial gift.
In sinning and redeeming (by sacrificing their right to paradise and live out their life together in respect of and exclusive to each other), Adam and Eve have secured the survival of the sleepers. Their moral code lives on to inspire the new humanity, ready for their return to (a new) Earth.

Almost too kindly? What do you think?

Let me show you three kinds of different movies, Passengers could have become:


Made it this far? Let me know by tapping the lil’ heart. Dankeschön!